Chakrabarti backs Gaunt in unlikely alliance

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The Independent Online

The notorious shock jock Jon Gaunt has found an unlikely ally in Shami Chakrabarti, the director of human rights group Liberty, following his sacking from national commercial station TalkSport last week.

Gaunt is pursuing legal action against the station and Chakrabarti has written a letter to TalkSport in his support, claiming the dismissal was “bizarre and disproportionate”. Gaunt was fired after being suspended for calling Redbridge councillor Michael Stark a “Nazi” during a heated debate on the council’s proposed policy of banning smokers from fostering children.

In her letter Chakrabarti, who has had several fierce exchanges on air with Gaunt in the past, says that he has the right to freedom of expression under the Human Rights Act.

She says: “We understand that the grounds given for summary termination are Mr Gaunt's on-air references to the "health Nazis" he felt responsible for banning smokers from fostering children in Redbridge. This strikes us as the most bizarre and disproportionate approach to someone who was no doubt contracted to excite political debate amongst a whole host of listeners who might not normally engage with news and current affairs programmes.

“For present purposes, we make no comment on the substance of the childcare policy in question. However we would remind you that any court must read Mr Gaunt's contract in the light of his right to free expression under Article 10 of the Human Rights Act. Whilst this is far from an absolute right (particularly in the context of broadcasting), to be meaningful it must extend to contentious as well as consensual speech and we find it hard to envisage how your actions could possibly constitute a proportionate and lawful response to the present facts.

“Whilst we appreciate that recent weeks have been a delicate time for all broadcasters, we see Mr Gaunt's case as materially different from the now notorious example of privacy intrusion and broadcast bullying that the BBC has done its best to grapple with. Further, whilst Mr Gaunt's style may not be to everyone's taste, it is our view that no reasonable listener could have construed his comments in context as accusing the subjects of involvement in or association with Nazism.

“From a personal point of view as someone who has been on the receiving end of Jon Gaunt's blunt polemic in print and on the radio, I believe that the airwaves of a great democracy would be the poorer for his absence. I urge you to reinstate Mr Gaunt's programme without delay and have offered him support in the unlikely and unfortunate event that recourse to the Human Rights Act proves necessary.”

Gaunt has also received the backing of an old soldier Honorary Lieutenant Tul Bahadur Pun VC, one of only nine surviving living Victoria Cross winners, and one of the 3 last surviving Gurkha VCs.

In another letter to TalkSport, Pun writes: Mr Gaunt was the first radio presenter to air my plight to the British people. He took up and championed my right to come and live in the UK, as a Gurkha who had won the Victoria Cross. Mr Gaunt was one of the very first people to sign my petition on the Downing Street website, and ever since he has been one of the greatest friends to Gurkhas like me, whose only crime was to retire prior to 1997 and thus be banned from Britain (a country we dearly love).”

He speaks of his dismay at Gaunt’s sacking, saying: “I was deeply saddened to learn that Jon Gaunt had been removed from his radio show on talkSPORT over comments he made to a British politician. I understand from the press that Mr Gaunt has apologised for what he said. However, I want you to know that from a Gurkha’s point of view he is a good man and his good deeds campaigning for the Gurkhas should be taken into the balance when you consider this honourable man.”